Anjay Shah is a businessman in Kathmandu and a consultant for a German firm. Like many parents in Nepal, Shah had also sent both his sons, one studying in Class X and the other in Class VII, to Darjeeling’s famous St Paul’s North Point School. But, with the ongoing shutdown in the Hills for a separate state of Gorkhaland, Shah’s children, who are in Kathmandu for a month now, are unable to rejoin school.
On Friday, at least 60 schools in Darjeeling hills, including boarding and day schools, and those from Darjeeling town, Kalimpong and Kuresong, held a meeting and approached the Gorkhaland Movement Coordination Committee to ask them to let them resume classes for at least the senior students of Classes IX to XII.
“The children do not have to attend schools in uniforms and we will not hold any extra curricular activities. We have to ensure that students, especially those who will be giving board exams, do not lose out on their studies,” said a school principal, adding that they are now awaiting a response from the coordination committee.
Shah, who has himself studied at North Point, is waiting for the response too. “There are many families in Nepal who send their children to Darjeeling to study. It’s not like Nepal doesn’t have any schools but we have to think of our children’s future, and an Indian education especially in a school like North Point will help them in their higher studies as well,” he said.
Shah said that there are sentiments attached to the old Anglo-Indian schools, with many families having studied there for generations. “After the strike began, the school dropped the students off at Siliguri from where we picked them up. My younger son can still be relocated to another school, but I am worried about my elder son who is in Class X. It is too late to shift him to another school,” said Shah.
At present, there are at least 10,000 boarders in Darjeeling’s popular boarding schools and many of them are from neighboring countries like Nepal, Bhutan, Thailand, Bangladesh as well as from northeast states and cities like Kolkata.
‘’There were many students who would come from Mumbai and Bangalore as well. But after the agitation in the 1980s, they stopped coming. The Darjeeling boarding schools are famous. One of the reasons for their popularity is the attention we pay to each child. No boarding school here has more than 1,000 children. We don’t have mass production of students like DPS. That is one of the reasons why we have a huge waiting line of students trying to get in. Nevertheless after the 80s, we lost 50 per cent of our clientele,” said former proctor of North Point and educationist Father Kinley.
“The fear is that we will lose the next 25 per cent of the clients this time. These are families who have always sent their students to study with us. In the 80s, the alternatives were limited, but now you have good schools with modern facilities that have sprung up everywhere. So, the fear of losing clients is very real,” he added.
Another parent, a Darjeeling resident, said that one of his sons will sit for the board exams next year. “My son is in Class X. It is deja vu for me because when I was studying in Class XII and about to give my board exams, there was an agitation too and the school was shut. I pushed through then, he will, too, hopefully,” he said.